At-Risk Youths: What Can Obama Really Do?

The president vows to act even without Congress. Let's hope he'll do more than just talk.

An antiviolence protest in Chicago (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
An antiviolence protest in Chicago (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(The Root) — The teen years.

It’s that time we spend becoming the adults we are today. Days are supposed to be filled with school, dating, friends, SATs and growing up. But that idyllic scenario doesn’t ring true for all. Not for one group between the ages of 15 and 19, who may not make it out of their teen years alive.

For black male teenagers, the leading cause of death is homicide.

According to research by the Children’s Defense Fund, in 2008 and 2009 black children and teenagers made up 45 percent of all young people killed by guns in America. And they did this despite being only 15 percent of the U.S. population.

That, along with the conclusion of the trial involving the shooting death of another black teen — Trayvon Martin — was on the mind of some House Democrats when they recently met with President Obama to talk about at-risk youths.

During the session, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked the president what he planned to do to help black youths in light of the George Zimmerman verdict, and President Obama responded that there would be action to help at-risk youths. From Politico:

Obama told Cummings that it was a “good time” to examine disparities in the criminal justice system, and efforts to help black, Asian, and Hispanic men and boys. The president added that officials need to look at what can be done to aid at-risk youth in general.

“We’re doing that,” Obama said, according to a source in the room. The president said some solutions could come without having to pass legislation, and that he was consulting with Attorney General Eric Holder on what options the White House has on the matter, sources said.

While that sounds very good and promising, there was a part of this answer that concerned me: “Some solutions could come without having to pass legislation.” What can the executive branch actually do, all on its own, to stem the tide of violence that plagues the streets of cities like Chicago, Detroit or my hometown of St. Louis, Mo.?

I can understand wanting to circumvent Congress. Even the most banal of legislature gets loaded down, beaten down and backed up in a cacophony of partisan attacks and counterattacks. How do you expect a body of government to do something about black youth violence when some of the body politic is representing constituents who believe that black people bring this horror upon themselves and should be left alone to deal with it?